Kiran Rao was born into a royal family from Bangalore on 7 November 1973. Her paternal grandfafther was J. Rameshwar Rao, Raja of Wanaparthy.
She was raised in Kolkata where she attended Loreto House and La Martiniere Calcutta. In 1992, her parents decided to leave Kolkata so she shifted to Mumbai. She graduated with an economics major from the Sophia College for Women (Mumbai) in 1995. She attended the Social Communications Media course at the Sophia Polytechnic for two months, but then left for Delhi. She got her Masters at AJK Mass Communication Research Center at Jamia Millia Islamia, New Delhi. Her first maternal cousin is actress, Aditi Rao Hydari.
Kiran Rao started her career as an assistant director in the epic film Lagaan directed by Ashutosh Gowariker, whom she also assisted later on Swades: We, the People. Lagaan was nominated for 74th Academy A